Politics & Policy

Sorry, Stacey Abrams, H.R. 1 Exemplifies the Need for the Filibuster

Stacey Abrams arrives for a meeting with President Biden in Atlanta, Ga., March 19, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
The entire nation’s voting system could be changed, top to bottom, by 51 senators without even a debate.

Democratic Party folk hero and conspiracy theorist Stacey Abrams recently argued that the filibuster is a bigoted relic that should be abolished. Until then, however, Abrams is content with a filibuster carve-out for election laws, just as there had been for the “ambitious” and “transformational” budgetary “American Rescue Plan.”

Of course, Abrams has it entirely backwards. Not only because she misconstrues — or, far more likely, misleads her readers about — the very rationale for the Senate’s existence, but because the more “ambitious” (expensive) and “transformational” (intrusive) a bill, the more important it is to build a national consensus for its passage. In that regard, few bills in recent decades have better demonstrated the importance of a filibuster than the authoritarian H.R. 1.

For one thing, whatever the specifics of an election-overhaul bill, empowering a partisan majority to unilaterally transform the entire nation’s voting systems, eliminating thousands of existing state laws, as H.R. 1 would do, is far more consequential and constitutionally dubious than pushing through a temporary spending bill, no matter how big the price tag. Unlike the “stimulus” bill, the election-integrity-busting H.R. 1 undermines 200 years of traditional republican governance.

Indeed, setting aside whether H.R. 1 is constitutional, allowing a skeletal majority to rewrite and dictate election law for the whole country, without any buy-in from even the moderates of the opposition, would empower one party to exploit the system in the pursuit of power. A 60-vote threshold stops this kind of corruption.

And make no mistake, H.R. 1 is meant to stifle debate, degrade the integrity of state elections, and, like the elimination of the 60-vote legislative threshold, strip the Senate of its innate legislative character.

Abrams and numerous other Democrats rely on vacuous and cynical charges of racism in their crusade to eliminate the filibuster so that they don’t have to debate the transformational nature of their position. And without a filibuster, there would be little national debate on H.R. 1, which would, among many other things:

  • Force states to count mail-in votes that arrive up to ten days after Election Day, but also force states to allow 15 days of early voting.
  • Force states to allow shady ballot harvesting.
  • Force states to ban basic voter-ID laws that are used in nearly every modern Western democracy.
  • Force states to provide people with same-day registration and allow them to change their names and addresses on the rolls at the polling place on Election Day, yet ban state officials from challenging provisional ballots or checking signatures — which, incidentally, wouldn’t need to be notarized or witnessed.
  • Force states to automate registration of people who apply for unemployment, Medicaid, Obamacare, and college, whether they want to be registered or not.
  • Ban prosecution of noncitizens who register to vote.
  • Force states to have curbside voting and ballot drop boxes on the street.
  • Empower the federal government to micromanage polling stations, hours, early-voting locations, and drop boxes, no matter what local traditions or practicality dictates.
  • Force states to allow felons to vote and also register 16-year-olds (the next step in destroying voter integrity will be giving kids voting rights).
  • Force states to hand over the power to draw congressional districts to federal partisan bureaucrats rather than elected state officials.
  • Force states to adopt burdensome unconstitutional speech-impeded regulations while giving more power to politicians and student activists.

If one opposes any of these newly concocted third-world voting practices — or defends the importance of a policy-neutral filibuster that preserves some semblance of federalism — then Democrats will claim you are trying to resuscitate Jim Crow. It takes a special kind of shameless mendacity to deploy the filibuster over 500 times since 2014 and then contrive a showdown over the issue before Republicans have used it even once.

And, as many have pointed out, numerous voter-suppression laws were passed using a mere majority. Does that mean a 51-vote majority is a racist institution, as well? (I happily concede that I believe that the latter, a more direct democracy, is more precarious and illiberal than a federal system slowed by counter-majoritarian institutions.)

Moreover, the very notion that African Americans are unable to register like anyone else, or unable to get photo ID like anyone else, or unable to mail in a ballot on time like everyone else, is a toxically cynical and paternalistic position meant to divide us. Such contentions also diminish the insidiousness of real voter suppression — though a rarity today, indeed. We have courts to adjudicate instances of alleged discrimination. If we listen to Democrats, however, anyone who supports the basic constitutional limitations on federal power is basically the next Bull Connor.

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